Researchers warn US is fueling Canada's growing COVID-19 conspiracies

A new study from McGill University has found that misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine originating from the United States may be fueling conspiracy theories and other issues in Canada. Social media appears to be a driving factor in this cross-border information exchange, with Canadians who report frequent Twitter use experiencing high exposure to American news sources.

A variety of misinformation about the pandemic, COVID-19, and related vaccines can be found online — they include everything from bioweapon claims to conspiracies about dangerous vaccines and a relatively harmless virus. Social media makes it easy for anyone to find this misinformation and get stuck in an algorithmic echo chamber.

The new study sought to understand how this misinformation is spreading quickly throughout Canada; it was recently published in the journal Frontiers in Political Science. The findings were based on an analysis of around 200,000 Canadians who used Twitter.

Using surveys, the researchers found that Canadian social media users were often exposed to information originating from the United States rather than Canadian news sources — and this was a problem, as the exposure to US-based news was also linked to 'misperceptions' related to the pandemic and COVID-19.

Beyond that, the study also linked most of the COVID-19 misinformation shared by Canadians on Twitter as originating from US sources. Noting the frequency with which Canadians are exposed to American media, the study's co-author Taylor Owen said, "On average, [Canadian social media users] follow three times as many Americans as they do Canadians on Twitter, and retweet them eight times more often."

The researchers say that limiting the amount of news from other countries that appear prominently in news feed may help address this issue, as well as dealing with the issue of algorithms that quickly spread misinformation.